'By God,' Wriothesley said when she entered the long gallery where the me_ere. 'This is a fair woman!'
She had command of her features, and her eyes were upon the ground; it was _art of a woman's upbringing to walk well, and her masters had so taught he_hen she had lived with her grandmother, the old duchess. Not the tips of he_hoes shewed beneath the zigzag folds of her russet-brown underskirt; the tip_f her scarlet sleeves netted with gold touched the waxed wood of the floor; her hood fell behind to the ground, and her fair hair was golden where th_unlight fell on it with a last, watery ray.
Upon Privy Seal she raised her eyes; she bent her knees so that her gow_pread out all around her when she curtsied, and, having arranged it with _low hand, she came to her height again, rustling as if she rose from a wave.
'Sir,' she said, 'I come to pray you to right a great wrong done by you_ervants.'
'By God!' Wriothesley said, 'she speaks high words.'
'Madam Howard,' Cromwell answered—and his eyes graciously dwelt upon her tal_orm. She had clasped her hands before her lap and looked into his face.
'Madam Howard, you are more learned in the better letters than I; but I woul_ave you call to memory one Pancrates, of whom telleth Lucian. Being in _esert or elsewhere, this magician could turn sticks, stocks and stakes int_ervants that did his will. Mark you, they did his will—no more and no less.'
'Sir,' Katharine said, 'ye have better servants than ever had Pancrates. The_o more than your behests.'
Cromwell bent his back, stretched aside his white hand and smiled still.
'Ye trow truth,' he said. 'Yet ye do me wrong; for had I the servants o_ancrates, assuredly he should hear no groans of injustice from men of goo_ill.'
'It is too good hearing,' Katharine said gravely. 'This is my tale——'
Once before she had trembled in this man's presence, and still she had _atching in the throat as her eyes measured his face. She was mad to do righ_nd to right wrongs, yet in his presence the doing of the right, the rightin_f wrongs, seemed less easy than when she stood before any other man. 'Sir,'
she uttered, 'I have thought ye have done ill afore now. I am nowise certai_hat ye thought your ill-doing an evil. I beseech you for a patient hearing.'
But, though she told her story well—and it was an old story that she ha_earned by heart—she could not be rid of the feeling that this was a less eas_atter than it had seemed to her, to call Cromwell accursed. She had a movin_ale of wrongs done by Cromwell's servant, Dr Barnes, a visitor of a church i_incolnshire near where her home had been. For the lands had been taken from _ittle priory upon an excuse that the nuns lived a lewd life; and so well ha_he known the nuns, going in and out of the convent every week-day, that wel_he knew the falseness of Cromwell's servant's tale.
'Sir,' she said to Cromwell, 'mine own foster-sister had the veil there; min_wn mother's sister was there the abbess.' She stretched out a hand. 'Sir, they dwelled there simply and godly, withdrawn from the world; succouring th_oor; weaving of fine linens, for much flax grew upon those lands by there; and praying God and the saints that blessings fall upon this land.'
Wriothesley spoke to her slowly and heavily:
'Such little abbeys ate up the substance of this land in the old days. Wel_ave we prospered since they were done away who ate up the fatness of thi_ealm. Now husbandmen till their idle soil and cattle are in their buildings.'
'Gentleman whose name I know not,' she turned upon him, 'more wealth an_rosperity God granted us in answer to their prayers than could be won by al_he husbandmen of Arcadia and all the kine of Cacus. God standeth above al_en's labours.' But Cromwell's servants had sworn away the lands of the smal_bbey, and now the abbess and her nuns lay in gaol accused—and falsely—o_aving secreted an image of Saint Hugh to pray against the King's fortunes.
'Before God,' she said, 'and as Christ is my Saviour, I saw and mak_eposition that these poor simple women did no such thing but loved the Kin_s he had been their good father. I have seen them at their prayers. Befor_od, I say to you that they were as folk astonished and dismayed; knowing s_ittle of the world that ne one ne other knew whence came the word that ha_ared them to the skies. I have seen them—I.'
'Where went they?' Wriothesley said; 'what worked they?'
'Gentleman,' she answered; 'being cast out of their houses and their veils, they knew nowhither to go; homes they had none; they lived with their ow_inds in hovels, like frightened lambs, the saints their pastors being drive_rom their folds.'
'Aye,' Wriothesley said grimly, 'they cumbered the ground; they did meet i_nots for mutinies.'
'God had appointed them the duty of prayer,' Katharine answered him. 'They me_nd prayed in sheds and lodges of the house that had been theirs, poor ghost_evisiting and bewailing their earthly homes. I have prayed with them.'
'Ye have done a treason in that day,' Wriothesley answered.
'I have done the best that ever I did for this land,' she met him fully. '_rayed naught against the King and the republic. I have prayed you and you_ike might be cast down. So do I still. I stand here to avow it. But the_ever did, and they do lie in gaol.' She turned again upon Cromwell and spok_iteously from her full throat. 'My lord,' she cried. 'Soften your heart an_et the wax in your ears melt so that ye hear. Your servants swore falsel_hen they said these women lived lewdly; your men swore falsely when they sai_hat these women prayed treasonably. For the one count they took their land_nd houses; for the other they lay them in the gaols. Sir, my lord, you_ervants go up and down this land; sir, my lord, they ride rich men with boot_f steel and do strangle the poor with gloves of iron. I do think ye know the_o it; I do pray ye know not. But, sir, if ye will right this wrong I wil_iss your hands; if you will set up again these homes of prayer I will take _eil, and in one of them spend my days praying that good befall you an_ours.' She paused in her speaking and then began again: 'Before I came here _ad made me a fair speech. I have forgot it, and words come haltingly to me.
Sirs, ye think I seek mine own aggrandisement; ye think I do wish ye cas_own. Before God, I wish ye were cast down if ye continue in these ways; but _ave prayed to God who sent the Pentecostal fires, to give me the gift o_ongues that shall soften your hearts——'
Cromwell interrupted her, smiling that Venus, who made her so fair, gave he_o need of a gift of tongues, and Minerva, who made her so learned, gave he_o need of fairness. For the sake of the one and the other, he would ver_iligently enquire into these women's courses. If they ha been guiltless, the_hould be richly repaid; if they ha been guilty, they should be pardoned.
Katharine flushed with a hot anger.
'Ye are a very craven lord,' she said. 'If you may find them guilty, you shal_ave my head. But if you do find them innocent and shield them not, I swear _ill strive to have thine.' Anger made her blue eyes dilate. 'Have you n_owels of compassion for the right? Ye treat me as a fair woman—but I speak a_ messenger of the King's, that is God's, to men who too long have hardene_heir hearts.'
Throckmorton laid back his head and laughed suddenly at the ceiling; Cranme_rossed himself; Wriothesley beat his heel upon the floor and shrugged hi_houlders bitterly—but Lascelles, the Archbishop's spy, kept his eyes upo_hrockmorton's face with a puzzled scrutiny.
'Why now does that man laugh?' he asked himself. For it seemed to him that b_aughing Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard. And indeed, Throckmorto_pplauded Katharine Howard. As policy her speech was neither here nor there, but as voicing a spirit, infectious and winning to men's hearts, he saw tha_uch speaking should carry her very far. And, if it should embroil her mor_han ever with Cromwell, it would the further serve his adventures. He wa_lready conspiring to betray Cromwell, and he knew that, very soon now, Cromwell must pierce his mask of loyalty; and the more Katharine should hav_ast down her glove to Cromwell, the more he could shelter behind her; and th_ore men she could have made her friends with her beauty and her fin_peeches, the more friends he too should have to his back when the day o_iscovery came. In the meantime he had in his sleeve a trick that he woul_peedily play upon Cromwell, the most dangerous of any that he had played. Fo_elow the stairs he had Udal, with his news of the envoy from Cleves t_rance, and with his copies of the envoy's letters. But, in her turn, Katharine played him, unwittingly enough, a trick that puzzled him.
'Bones of St Nairn!' he said; 'she has him to herself. What mad prank will sh_lay now?'
Katharine had drawn Cromwell to the very end of the gallery.
'As I pray that Christ will listen to my pleas when at the last I come to Hi_or pardon and comfort,' she said, 'I swear that I will speak true words t_ou.'
He surveyed her, plump, alert, his lips moving one upon the other. He brough_ne white soft hand from behind his back to play with the furs upon his chest.
'Why, I believe you are a very earnest woman,' he said.
'Then, sir,' she said, 'understand that your sun is near its setting. We rise, we wane; our little days do run their course. But I do believe you love you_ing his cause more than most men.'
'Madam Howard,' he said, 'you have been my foremost foe.'
'Till five minutes agone I was,' she said.
He wondered for a moment if she were minded to beg him to aid her in growin_o be Queen; and he wondered too how that might serve his turn. But she spok_gain:
'You have very well served the King,' she said. 'You have made him rich an_otent. I believe ye have none other desire so great as that desire to mak_im potent and high in this world's gear.'
'Madam Howard,' he said calmly, 'I desire that—and next to found for myself _reat house that always shall serve the throne as well as I.'
She gave him the right to that with a lowering of her eyebrows.
'I too would see him a most high prince,' she said. 'I would see him she_ustre upon his friends, terror upon his foes, and a great light upon thi_ealm and age.'
She paused to touch him earnestly with one long hand, and to brush back _trand of her hair. Down the gallery she saw Lascelles moving to speak wit_hrockmorton and Wriothesley holding the Archbishop earnestly by the sleeve.
'See,' she said, 'you are surrounded now by traitors that will bring you down.
In foreign lands your cause wavers. I tell you, five minutes agone I wishe_ou swept away.'
Cromwell raised his eyebrows.
'Why, I knew that this was difficult fighting,' he said. 'But I know not wha_iveth me your good wishes.'
'My lord,' she answered, 'it came to me in my mind: What man is there in th_and save Privy Seal that so loveth his master's cause?'
'How well do you love this King,' he said.
'I love this King; I love this land,' she said, 'as Cato loved Rome o_eonidas his realm of Sparta.'
Cromwell pondered, looking down at his foot; his lips moved furtively, h_olded his hand inside his sleeves; and he shook his head when again she mad_o speak. He desired another minute for thought.
'This I perceive to be the pact you have it in your mind to make,' he said a_ast, 'that if you come to sway the King towards Rome I shall still stay hi_an and yours?'
She looked at him, her lips parted with a slight surprise that he should s_ell have voiced thoughts that she had hardly put into words. Then her fait_ose in her again and moved her to pitiful earnestness.
'My lord,' she uttered, and stretched out one hand. 'Come over to us. 'Ti_uch great pity else—'tis such pity else.'
She looked again at Throckmorton, who, in the distance, was surveying th_rchbishop's spy with a sardonic amusement, and a great mournfulness wen_hrough her. For there was the traitor and here before her was the betrayed.
Throckmorton had told her enough to know that he was conspiring against hi_aster, and Cromwell trusted Throckmorton before any man in the land; and i_as as if she saw one man with a dagger hovering behind another. With he_oman's instinct she felt that the man about to die was the better man, thoug_e were her foe. She was minded—she was filled with a great desire to say:
'Believe no word that Throckmorton shall tell you. The Duke of Cleves is no_bandoning your cause.' That much she had learnt from Udal five minute_efore. But she could not bring herself to betray Throckmorton, who was _raitor for the sake of her cause. ''Tis such pity,' she repeated again.
'Good wench,' Cromwell said, 'you are indifferent honest; but never while I a_he King's man shall the Bishop of Rome take toll again in the King's land.'
She threw up her hands.
'Alack!' she said, 'shall not God and His Son our Saviour have their part o_he King's glory?'
'God is above us all,' he answered. 'But there is no room for two heads of _tate, and in a State is room but for one army. I will have my King so stron_hat ne Pope ne priest ne noble ne people shall here have speech or power. S_t is now; I have so made it, the King helping me. Before I came this was _istracted State; the King's writ ran not in the east, not in the west, not i_he north, and hardly in the south parts. Now no lord nor no bishop nor n_ope raises head against him here. And, God willing, in all the world n_rince shall stand but by grace of this King's Highness. This land shall hav_he wealth of all the world; this King shall guide this land. There shall b_ich husbandmen paying no toll to priests, but to the King alone; there shal_e wealthy merchants paying no tax to any prince nor emperor, but only to thi_ing. The King's court shall redress all wrongs; the King's voice shall b_mnipotent in the council of the princes.'
'Ye speak no word of God,' she said pitifully.
'God is very far away,' he answered.
'Sir, my lord,' she cried, and brushed again the tress from her forehead. 'Y_ave made this King rich with gear of the Church: if ye will be friends wit_e ye shall make this King a pauper to repay; ye have made this King stiffe_is neck against God's Vicegerent: if you and I shall work together ye shal_ake him re-humble himself. Christ the King of all the world was a pauper; Christ the Saviour of all mankind humbled Himself before God that was Hi_aviour.'
Cromwell said 'Amen.'
'Sir,' she said again; 'ye have made this King rich, but I will give to hi_gain his power to sleep at night; ye have made this realm subject to thi_ing, but, by the help of God, I will make it subject again to God. You hav_et up here a great State, but oh, the children of God do weep since ye came.
Where is a town where lamentation is not heard? Where is a town where n_rphan or widow bewails the day that saw your birth?' She had sobs in he_oice and she wrung her hands. 'Sir,' she cried, 'I say you are as a dead ma_lready—your day of pride is past, whether ye aid us or no. Set yourself the_o redress as heartily as ye have set yourself in the past to make sad. Tha_and is blest whose people are happy; that State is aggrandised whence ther_rise songs praising God for His blessings. You have built up a great city o_roans; set yourself now to build a kingdom where "Praise God" shall be sung.
It is a contented people that makes a State great; it is the love of God tha_aketh a people rich.'
Cromwell laughed mirthlessly:
'There are forty thousand men like Wriothesley in England,' he said. 'God hel_ou if you come against them; there are forty times forty thousand and fort_imes that that pray you not again to set disorder loose in this land. I hav_roken all stiff necks in this realm. See you that you come not against som_et.' He stopped, and added: 'Your greatest foes should be your own friends i_ be a dead man as you say.' And he smiled at her bewilderment when he ha_dded: 'I am your bulwark and your safeguard.'
… 'For, listen to me,' he took up again his parable. 'Whilst I be here I bea_he rancour of your friends' hatred. When I am gone you shall inherit it.'
'Sir,' she said, 'I am not here to hear riddles, but here I am to pray yo_eek the right.'
'Wench,' he said pleasantly, 'there are in this world many rights—you hav_ours; I mine. But mine can never be yours nor yours mine. I am not yet s_ead as ye say; but if I be dead, I wish you so well that I will send you _hial of poison ere I send to take you to the stake. For it is certain that i_ou have not my head I shall have yours.'
She looked at him seriously, though the tears ran down her cheeks.
'Sir,' she uttered, 'I do take you to be a man of your word. Swear to me, then, that if upon the fatal hill I do save you your life and your estates, you will nowise work the undoing of the Church in time to come.'
'Madam Queen that shall be,' he said, 'an ye gave me my life this day, to- morrow I would work as I worked yesterday. If ye have faith of your cause _ave the like of mine.'
She hung her head, and said at last:
'Sir, an ye have a little door here at the gallery end I will go out by it'; for she would not again face the men who made the little knot before th_indow. He moved the hangings aside and stood before the aperture smiling.
'Ye came to ask a boon of me,' he said. 'Is it your will still that I gran_t?'
'Sir,' she answered, 'I asked a boon of you that I thought you would no_rant, so that I might go to the King and shew him your evil dealings with hi_ieges.'
'I knew it well,' he said. 'But the King will not cast me down till the Kin_ath had full use of me.'
'You have a very great sight into men's minds,' she uttered, and he laughe_oiselessly once again.
'I am as God made me,' he said. Then he spoke once more. 'I will read you_ind if you will. Ye came to me in this crisis, thinking with yourself: _Liar_o unto the King saying, "This Cromwell is a traitor; cast him down, for h_eeks your ill." I will go unto the King saying, "This Cromwell grindeth th_aces of the poor and beareth false witness. Cast him down, though he serv_ou well, since he maketh your name to stink to heaven."_ So I read my fellow- men.'
'Sir,' she said, 'it is very true that I will not be linked with liars. And i_s very true that men do so speak of you to the King's Highness.'
'Why,' he answered her debonairly, 'the King shall listen neither to them no_o you till the day be come. Then he will act in his own good way—upon th_retext that I be a traitor, or upon the pretext that I have borne fals_itness, or upon no pretext at all.'
'Nevertheless will I speak for the truth that shall prevail,' she answered.
'Why, God help you!' was his rejoinder.
* * *
Going back to his friends in the window Cromwell meditated that it wa_ossible to imagine a woman that thought so simply; yet it was impossible t_magine one that should be able to act with so great a simplicity. On the on_and, if she stayed about the King she should be his safeguard, for it wa_ery certain that she should not tell the King that he was a traitor. And tha_bove all was what Cromwell had to fear. He had, for his own purposes, s_illed the King with the belief that treachery overran his land, that the Kin_aw treachery in every man. And Cromwell was aware, well enough, that such o_is adherents as were Protestant—such men as Wriothesley—had indeed boaste_hat they were twenty thousand swords ready to fall upon even the King if h_et against the re-forming religion in England. This was the greatest dange_hat he had—that an enemy of his should tell the King that Privy Seal ha_ehind his back twenty thousand swords. For that side of the matter Katharin_oward was even a safeguard, since with her love of truth she would assuredl_ombat these liars with the King.
But, on the other hand, the King had his superstitious fears; only that night, pale, red-eyed and heavy, and being unable to sleep, he had sent to rous_romwell and had furiously rated him, calling him knave and shaking him by th_houlder, telling him for the twentieth time to find a way to make a peac_ith the Bishop of Rome. These were only night-fears—but, if Cleves shoul_esert Henry and Protestantism, if all Europe should stand solid for the Pope, Henry's night-fears might eat up his day as well. Then indeed Katharine woul_e dangerous. So that she was indeed half foe, half friend.
It hinged all upon Cleves; for if Cleves stood friend to Protestantism th_ing would fear no treason; if Cleves sued for pardon to the Emperor and Rome, Henry must swing towards Katharine. Therefore, if Cleves stood firm t_rotestantism and defied the Emperor, it would be safe to work at destroyin_atharine; if not, he must leave her by the King to defend his very loyalty.
The Archbishop challenged him with uplifted questioning eyebrows, and h_nswered his gaze with:
'God help ye, goodman Bishop; it were easier for thee to deal with this mai_han for me. She would take thee to her friend if thou wouldst curry wit_ome.'
'Aye,' Cranmer answered. 'But would Rome have truck with me?' and he shook hi_ead bitterly. He had been made Archbishop with no sanction from Rome.
Cromwell turned upon Wriothesley; the debonair smile was gone from his face; the friendly contempt that he had for the Archbishop was gone too; his eye_ere hard, cruel and red, his lips hardened.
'Ye have done me a very evil turn,' he said. 'Ye spoke stiff-necked folly t_his lady. Ye shall learn, Protestants that ye are, that if I be the flail o_he monks I may be a hail, a lightning, a bolt from heaven upon Lutherans tha_ross the King.'
The hard malice of his glance made Wriothesley quail and flush heavily.
'I thought ye had been our friend,' he said.
'Wriothesley,' Cromwell answered, 'I tell thee, silly knave, that I be frien_nly to them that love the order and peace I have made, under the King'_ighness, in this realm. If it be the King's will to stablish again the ol_aith, a hammer of iron will I be upon such as do raise their heads agains_t. It were better ye had never been born, it were better ye were dead an_sleep, than that ye raised your heads against me.' He turned, then he swun_ack with the sharpness of a viper's spring.
'What help have I had of thee and thy friends? I have bolstered up Cleves an_is Lutherans for ye. What have he and ye done for me and my King? Your frien_he Duke of Cleves has an envoy in Paris. Have ye found for why he come_here? Ye could not. Ye have botched your errand to Paris; ye have spoke_aughtily in my house to a friend of the King's that came friendlily to me.'
He shook a fat finger an inch from Wriothesley's eyes. 'Have a care! I di_end my visitors to smell out treason among the convents and abbeys. Wait y_ill I send them to your conventicles! Ye shall not scape. Body of God! y_hall not scape.'
He placed a heavy hand upon Throckmorton's shoulder.
'I would I had sent thee to Paris,' he said. 'No envoy had come there whos_apers ye had not seen. I warrant thou wouldst have ferreted them through.'
Throckmorton's eyes never moved; his mouth opened and he spoke with neithe_riumph nor malice:
'In very truth, Privy Seal,' he said, 'I have ferreted through enow of them t_now why the envoy came to Paris.'
Cromwell kept his hands still firm upon his spy's shoulder whilst the swif_houghts ran through his mind. He scowled still upon Wriothesley.
'Sir,' he said, 'ye see how I be served. What ye could not find in Paris m_an found for me in London town.' He moved his face round towards the grea_olden beard of his spy. 'Ye shall have the farms ye asked me for in Suffolk,'
he said. 'Tell me now wherefore came the Cleves envoy to France. Will Cleve_tay our ally, or will he send like a coward to his Emperor?'
'Privy Seal,' Throckmorton answered expressionlessly—he fingered his beard fo_ moment and felt at the medal depending upon his chest—'Cleves will stay you_riend and the King's ally.'
A great sigh went up from his three hearers at Throckmorton's lie; an_mpassive as he was, Throckmorton sighed too, imperceptibly beneath the mantl_f his beard. He had burned his boats. But for the others the sigh was of _reat contentment. With Cleves to lead the German Protestant confederation, the King felt himself strong enough to make headway against the Pope, th_mperor and France. So long as the Duke of Cleves remained a rebel against hi_ord the Emperor, the King would hold over Protestantism the mantle of hi_rotection.
Cromwell broke in upon their thoughts with his swift speech.
'Sirs,' he uttered, 'then what ye will shall come to pass. Wriothesley, _ardon thee; get thee back to Paris to thy mission. Archbishop, I trow tho_halt have the head of that wench. Her cousin shall be brought here again fro_rance.'
Lascelles, the Archbishop's spy, who kept his gaze upon Throckmorton's, sa_he large man's eyes shift suddenly from one board of the floor to another.
'That man is not true,' he said to himself, and fell into a train of musing.
But from the others Cromwell had secured the meed of wonder that he desired.
He had closed the interview with a dramatic speech; he had given the_omething to talk of.